I have a great new tasting group: all of them are studying for the WSET Diploma or Master of Wine exams. Technically I am not…I have finished the WSET, but I don't plan on trying for the Master of Wine for a couple more years. It's so great to find a group that knows so much and who wants to do some serious tasting!
Syrah is such a great grape: native to France, a very important grape in Australia, and a growing in popularity in numerous other countries. Twenty years ago it was very unfashionable, but now it is all the rage. Generally Syrah makes very dark, peppery, spicy, and tannic red wines. They are also known for smoky and floral qualities. Depending on provenance and quality, there are huge exceptions to this rule. It needs warm sites, but too warm and it loses some of its aromatic qualities. France makes a wide range: from mono-varietal wines in the marginal northern Rhone to very warm sites in Languedoc, where Syrah is multiplying rapidly as a top quality blending grape. Australia, second in acreage after France, makes an even wider range, including some very nice port-style wines and some great red sparkling wines!
We tried 11 different Syrahs blind from around the world...a huge challenge in Madrid where the selection of foreign wines is tiny. I also tried to get a wide range of styles and quality levels.
Overall, I was very disappointed with the top end French wines, blown away by our one Australian top-end wine and very pleasantly surprised by the Argentinean and Spanish Syrahs. The one Californian wine was nice, but forgettable and the South African was distinctly South African, with bretty, animal notes that I often see in Pinotages. The cheapest wines, whether from Australia or France, were pretty simple, but drinkable. We saw a lot of the typical qualities of Syrah in these wines, but the tasting also confirmed that provenance and style can greatly alter the grape variety.
Below the best and the major disappointments:
Jean Luc Colombo - Saint Joseph Les Lauves - 2001 - 25€ (Spain)
Comments: Really disappointing…apple, pepper, smoke, but really thin and extremely evolved in appearance and flavors. Most of the tasters thought it was much older.
Domaine Clusel Roche - Cote Rotie - 2000 - 100% Syrah - 32€ (Spain)
Comments: Much more complex than the St Joseph, with tobacco, smoke, carnations, but still disappointing, quite vegetal and light bodied, very evolved already.
Auguste Clape - Renaissance - 2003 - 33€ (Spain)
Comments: Better here, but very atypical in mouth, especially for a Cornas. Nice nose of cranberry, raspberry, and molasses. Huge, fruit bomb mouth, big tannins, fruit, good acid…very new world mouth. Confused tasting group.
Mount Langi Ghiran (in the Grampians area of Victoria) - Langi Shiraz - 2000 - 34€ (Spain)
Comments: This was the winner by a mile! Stunning wine…I was blown away…it's been so long since I had top level Aussie Shiraz! Eucalyptus, smoke, anis, spice, and cherry nose. Great mouth: tobacco, fresh acids, super long finish, nice tannins. Very youthful. I tasted is many hours later and it kept getting better!
Bodegas Salentein - Syrah - 2003 - 16€ (Spain)
Comments: Really nice fruit…liqueur plum and anise, with spice, high alcohol. Fairly simple mouth, but very pleasant, smooth…very drinkable.
Viñas del Vero (Somontano) - Las Coronas Syrah - 2004 - 12,50€ (Spain)
Comments: Very nice….I am not always a fan of Spanish Syrah! Very new world, with gobs of fruit, vanilla, spice, oak. In the mouth, the oak perhaps dominated a little, but nice, very long.